President George W. Bush used an election-year State of the Union
address to deliver a muscular message to Americans in general and
Democrats in particular.
In a speech that was alternately feisty and confident, the
president defended his administration's often aggressive tactics
overseas, and stood by his major domestic policy initiatives - some
of them controversial.
He admonished Congress, for instance, to renew his sweeping tax
cuts. He defended the No Child Left Behind Act that critics say is
turning schools into testing clinics but he thinks is dramatically
advancing American education. He lauded the far-reaching Patriot Act
that is criticized for undercutting civil liberties but he says is
providing invaluable protection in the war on terror. He called for
taking initial steps to privatize Social Security, curbing the power
of trial lawyers (a big Democratic constituency), and granting
temporary legal status to illegal immigrant workers.
"There was very little content for anybody but his (Republican)
base," said delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), Washington's
nonvoting representative in the House.
The president's most spirited defense was reserved for the
administration's actions overseas. "Because of American leadership
and resolve, the world is changing for the better," Mr. Bush said.
The invasion of Iraq was justified, he said, because it rid the
world of a torturous dictator and a regime whose weapons "programs"
were continuing and threatened world security. "The world without
Saddam Hussein's regime is a better and safer place," he said.
Bush said the United States would pursue whatever actions abroad
it thought was necessary to protect American interests - with or
without the approval of other nations. There is a difference, the
president said, "between leading a coalition of the many nations and
submitting to the objections of a few."
And then, in perhaps the most pointed remark of the speech, he
added: "America will never seek a permission slip to defend the
security of our country."
That statement could be viewed as a direct rejoinder to Democrats
- including many of the presidential candidates - who think the US
should quickly hand over all operations in Iraq to the United
"He has pursued a go-it-alone foreign policy that leaves us
isolated abroad and steals the resources we need for education and
healthcare here at home," said House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi
who delivered her party's official response to the speech along with
Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle.
That the speech laid down some clear markers shouldn't be
surprising. While Democratic candidates compete for voters'
attention in New Hampshire, Tuesday night's State of the Union
address gave Bush an hour of prime time to define and defend his
presidency and make the case for a second term.
On the third anniversary of his inauguration, the president spoke
to a packed House chamber and a television audience estimated in the
tens of millions. Until Bush makes his acceptance speech at the
Republican convention in early September, tonight's speech is the
most important platform the president will have to go over the heads
of his opponents to the American people.
Not surprisingly, the president adopted a confident tone in
describing America's prospects under his administration. "We have
not come all this way through tragedy, and trial, and war only to
falter and leave our work unfinished. Americans are rising to the
tasks of history, and they expect the same of us."
The White House takes the public position that the White House
has been working on this speech since October and the carefully
orchestrated events that surround it are not political. White House
spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters this morning that the
president "remains focused on the priorities of the American